There is at least one bright spot in a year of pandemic, lockdown, and economic instability: dog bites in Mexico are down by over 34%, possibly due to social distancing rules put in place to slow the growth of Covid-19.
“The place where dog bites occur most are in urban areas,” said Nibardo Paz Ayar, a medical epidemiological coordinator with the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS). “It’s where there are the most incidents — not necessarily in parks but on the street. So it’s thought that the decrease in bites is due to coronavirus social distancing restrictions keeping people at home.”
Whatever the cause, 2020 has been a better year for dogs and people getting along in Mexico. While just last week, 412 Mexicans reported being bitten by dogs, according to the National Epidemiological Bulletin published by the Ministry of Health, the total number of such cases so far this year is only 55,258. During the same period last year, over 84,000 people suffered dog bites, ranging from minor incidents to serious attacks.
These statistics appear to contrast with those reported by Mexico’s neighbor to the north: in the U.S., some states have seen sharp increases in the number of dog bites since the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders became a fact of life. An article published in June in the Journal of Pediatrics documented a three-fold rise in dog bites of children seen at Children’s Hospital Colorado since March. The city of Minneapolis recently instituted a new leash law after noticing that dog bites in March were up 80% from the same month last year.
Despite Mexico’s relatively good news, medical officials warn that dog bites are still a public health problem that can result in victims having to receive rabies vaccinations, major medical attention, and psychological counseling. Although the incident can last less than a minute, the physical injuries and mental scars from dog attacks can be long-lasting.
“For this reason, we carry out careful monitoring of these incidents although they are currently not the biggest [health] problem,” said a recent Bulletin report, which still ranks attacks by other types of mammals as more serious because of the diseases they can transmit.
“There are [victims] that develop symptoms of stress and anxiety,” says Arturo Barraza Macías, a researcher with the Pedagogical University of Durango. “The act of seeing a dog or hearing one bark makes them afraid. Many times, these incidents go ignored, and the emotional damage is not addressed.”
Paz said there is no statistical data tracking death rates from dog attacks. Only injuries and cases of rabies in humans are tracked. Victims of dog bites tend to be 22 to 44 years old.
Tracking of any kind of animal-caused injuries by the Health Ministry has only been going on since the year 2000, and it wasn’t until 2004 that dog bites were separated in statistical information, along with snake bites.